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Five Takeaways from Orlando City’s Preseason Scrimmage vs. Toronto

After sitting through the 180 minutes of action out at Championsgate, here are a few things that stood out.

Austin David, The Mane Land

Only two more weeks until the beginning of the 2017 MLS season and Orlando City is still trying to figure things out with its team.

On Sunday, the starters and reserves played two separate games against Toronto FC’s starters and reserves and lost both of them. The results, however, aren’t important. What was important was that Orlando was able to get some practice in against a really good opponent and was tested throughout both games.

Now, lets delve a little deeper into what I saw out there on Sunday and what really stood out.

1. The 4-4-2 Needs Work

Orlando came out in a flat 4-4-2 with Kaká and Matias Perez Garcia playing as the wingers, Antonio Nocerino and Will Johnson holding down the midfield, and Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas up top. Toronto, on the other side, came out in a 3-5-2 and immediately pressed Orlando City high up the field. Off a turnover within the first five minutes, Jozy Altidore scored for TFC, which gave them a bit of breathing room through the first half. For Orlando, those first 45 minutes were a struggle to get anything going offensively. When the Lions would get possession, they would try to force it through the midfield or play a long ball over top of the defense.

When they went through the midfield, the ball didn’t move quickly enough between players and Toronto’s high pressing was able to swarm and win possession back. On the long balls, neither Larin nor Rivas were in great position to get those passes, or there was a miscommunication between the passer and the runner.

The second half saw a lot more from Orlando in terms of communication and recognition for passing. It was cleaner, players were in better position, and they were able put together good attacking sequences. There still were times where wires were crossed a bit and a few missed opportunities could have seen two or three goals go in the net. Instead, it’s another learning opportunity.

Head Coach Jason Kreis talked about the formation after the game, saying that the 4-4-2 is the way to go “for the moment.” He feels that the formation is best suited for the players that they currently have and they’ll continue to work with it for the foreseeable future.

2. Larin and Rivas Learning To Play Together

It was evident in that second half of the first game that Larin and Rivas had plenty of potential to be future strike partners going forward. Rivas had some fantastic crosses in for Larin that he wasn’t able to finish, and Larin had some good passing looks to Rivas that just didn’t quite work out. There were times when both strikers were occupying the same space or bumping into one another. There was even a time when they had a counter attack and they both ran into the same area. With both players used to being the lone striker up top, it takes time to acclimate to having someone with you. In practice, it’s easier to execute playing with two strikers, but in game situations, instinct takes over and you revert to what you’ve been doing for the past two years.

After the game, Rivas talked about playing with Larin.

“It takes some time to get used to, your new partner up top, but slowly you get to know the person that you have next to you, in this case it’s Cyle,” Rivas told reporters after the game, via translator. “We hope to get adapted before the season starts and continue the way we’re performing, so we can then perform and excel during the season.”

3. Watch Out For Carlos Rivas

Going off on the Rivas subject, the Colombian was one of, if not the most, standout player in the match for Orlando. He seems to have vastly improved a lot of aspects of his game, including holding onto the ball while dribbling through traffic. His speed and ability to get behind the Toronto defense gave Orlando a multitude of chances on the attack and the constant threat of him making a run kept the defense from overplaying on him too much, which they did a few times only to have Rivas burn them. He’s also done a lot better in timing his runs. In fact, was never ruled offside in the match.

Kreis lauded his performance after the game, saying, “Carlos gives us a different dynamic with his ability to run in behind. With his timing on some of his runs and where he’s putting himself and also some of the work that he’s been doing defensively, has been spot on. So I think it’s an exciting prospect and he continues to perform well.”

4. The Center Back Partnership is Clicking

The center back pairing of Jose Aja and Jonathan Spector seems to be working well so far. Through the majority of the scrimmage on Sunday, both Aja and Spector were able to contain Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, for the most part, and didn’t allow them many opportunities on goal. Spector did well reading Giovinco and keeping him in front of him on counter attacks, and Aja did well matching up with Altidore on balls in the air, winning them almost 90% of the time.

“We’re getting better every day,” Spector said in post-game. “It was the first time we played against a 3-5-2, which is a bit different formation from what we’ve come up against thus far and that has its challenges in itself. I think it took us a little bit to realize what we needed to do defensively against that, but once we did, towards the end of the first half and most of the second half, I thought we had a good amount of the ball, we defended really well, and created some really good chances.”

5. Everyone Got to Play

This may seem a bit simple, but every able-bodied player on the roster was able to play in the two games against good competition. The results don’t matter in these kind of games. Just the fact that Orlando was able to field all of its players, have them go up against one of the best teams in the East from last year, and hold their own for the majority of the match, is something in itself. The goals will come, as will the wins, but practicing against yourselves for weeks on end can get very monotonous and mundane. These preseason matches give the players chances to prove themselves to the coaching staff, and help the coaching staff to get a look at what they can do better tactically going into the season. It can only help the team going forward in its preparation for the upcoming season.

Right, well that’s what I took away from the scrimmage. Let me know what you think in the comments below.